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  • Writer's pictureMelody DeBlois

In Pursuit of Poetry

Can Poetry go full circle? Is there such a thing? I believe the rhymes we hear on our mother's knee just might hold the key after our minds have ceased working because of dementia. I’ve read about bringing memories back to these patients by reading poems aloud to them. This practice has become important to me, especially now that my mother is suffering from the effects of aging.

The wonderful thing about poetry is that it is often read aloud to children by teachers. There’s evidence that this strengthens memory skills by repeated reading. The dots connect in a child’s brain when they hear a poem, see it, and say it aloud. On the whole, verses memorized in our youth never leave us.

My granddaughter, at three, is just beginning life's adventure while I am on the doorstep to old age. Yet, when I got to spend time with her last summer, it was the Mother Goose Rhymes that bond us together. What my mother passed down to me, lives on. If I hadn’t been as lucky—if my granddaughter didn’t have parents and teachers reading to her—we wouldn’t have enjoyed ourselves with this splendid gift, this connection.

I think there tend to be two types of teachers when it comes to poetry: the ones who love it and bring it to the classroom—those are the most valuable, of course. I don’t know why some teachers don’t fit it in with the curriculum they are teaching. They may feel they don’t have time for it. Maybe they have never experienced poetry or liked it even, and this prevents them from introducing it in their classrooms.

I had a teacher in the third grade who read poetry to us. About fifty years later, I ran into her. She told me she’d gone through a horrible divorce during the school term and had always worried she hadn’t given enough of herself to her students. I didn’t hesitate to let her know her reading poetry got me to write it for the very first time. On the other hand, in the fourth grade, my teacher was the opposite. Because I didn’t have the rich environment I had previously, I acted out and spent a good deal of time sitting in the corner.

People with dementia have short term memory problems. They may not be able to remember what they had for lunch but may well be able to recall things from a long time ago, such as a poem they heard fifty years ago from a parent or in the classroom. Sharing poetry has proved popular in care homes and day centers around the country. Not only does it provide pleasure and bring people together, but it also promotes joy.

I am happy to give back to my mom what she gave so readily to me, and at a time when she needs it most. I think we should read poetry to our children for their sake. In a society that has already taken handwriting away in the classroom, let’s hope poetry is here to stay. I, for one, will continue to keep it alive in my family. Will you?

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